Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Great Migrations

The Great Migration is a term we use to describe the mass migration of Americans of African descent, most of them descendant of slaves, to the cities of the north.  The first great migration took place between 1910 and 1930 when 1.6 million African Americans left their homes in the Jim Crow South for northern American cities like Detroit, New York, Chicago and Cleveland.  During this time period, the lynching of blacks in the South was happening on an estimated average of one every four days.  The Great Migration is a good example of how economics can drive history.  When the economy improved in the northern US, many of the factories in the north needed more labor.  My family immigrated south from French Canada during this same boom.  Opportunity allowed many to move to a better situations. The move to the new locale had its challenges. Many of the other ethnic groups did not welcome them particularly the urban Irish who were losing jobs to cheaper labor.

The Second Great Migration started during World War II, when factory jobs were many, through the booming time of the 1950's and 1960's.  Five million African Americans migrated from the South this time spreading out West to California, to the Midwest as well as North. Much of the migration routes of families can be traced by the train and other travel routes of the times. For example, Mississippi families migrated to the Chicago area, Alabamans to Ohio and Michigan cities and Louisianans over to California. Up to this point, African Americans were thought to be rural folk This is also where the Black American middle class got its roots.

Author Toni Morrison's family is one of the families that migrated in the First Great Migration.  Her maternal grandparent migrated from Alabama to Lorain, Ohio (on Lake Erie) in 1910 after they lost the family farm.  Her father's family migrated from Georgia to the same town where both sides of the family worked in steel mills.  The Nobel Prize winning author is famous to being a voracious reader, even as a child.   If she had grown up in the Jim Crow South, depending on what state and what year, it is possible that she wouldn't have been allowed to read, to attend a good school or even have a library card.  The world would be missing one of America greatest writers.  You have to wonder who or what other potential was lost during the lynchings in the Jim Crow South.

1 comment:

Olga said...

Yes, we can only wonder. Toni Morrison is one of my all time favorite authors.